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Need Advice about Reviving this old Slingerland May Belle

Jan 23, 2021 - 2:08:30 PM
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7 posts since 1/1/2021

I recently bought this banjo on ebay. It had no bridge and was missing a string. Before I take it to a pro I wanted opinions about restoring it. I added the missing string and a bridge. The string I added makes a nice sound but the other old strings sound bad. I have replacement strings but really struggled with that first one. As I looked at the banjo I realized that the nut is pretty worn down and the strings are touching the first fret. I know nothing about banjos so I tried placing a match stick near the nut to hold up the strings. It still sounded pretty bad. So what should I do? Is it fixable? Here are a few photos, though not well lit.








Edited by - bootsjones on 01/23/2021 14:27:14

Jan 23, 2021 - 4:26:34 PM
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beegee

USA

22187 posts since 7/6/2005

Before you take it to a "pro," study the various aspects of the banjo and attempt to remedy the problems yourself. This will be a valuable learning experience. Banjos are machines unlike other stringed instruments. With a few basic tools and a little insight you can figure this out.

Make sure the neck is flat and there are no high or low or badly worn frets. Fabricate a new nut from bone or corian for example. Make sure the head is tight and the neck angle is correct for the height of bridge you have. Replace all the strings with a correctly-gauged set.

Edited by - beegee on 01/23/2021 16:28:07

Jan 23, 2021 - 6:31 PM

7 posts since 1/1/2021

Thanks for the pointers. Very much appreciated.

Jan 23, 2021 - 8:04:05 PM
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DSmoke

USA

946 posts since 11/30/2015

Bob offers good insight. This banjo has limited value because it was built and sold as a "beginners" or "student" banjo. It could be an OK banjo today but paying a professional to get in a condition to be so would probably cost more than it is worth.

Jan 24, 2021 - 5:10:58 AM

7 posts since 1/1/2021

Thanks for the insight into its worth. It didn't cost much and a beginner tenor is fitting for me. I will do what I can to make it playable on my own.

Jan 24, 2021 - 6:29:35 AM

5569 posts since 12/20/2005
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Your second post indicates that you are pursuing getting this banjo in playable condition, so that you can use it for actual practice and learning.
Bob is right, banjos are more mechanical than other instruments.
I'll add, old banjos generally require a lot more maintenance and tinkering.
Some will require near complete restoration to get it playable and reliable.
If you are interested in becoming a banjo player, the dynamics of the discussion change a bit.
You need a banjo that is ready to be played and will require little or nothing more than daily tuning.
This banjo is far from that and may no longer be capable of ever getting to that point. It can be a frustrating endeavor.
As a beginner, frustration with the banjo is a major obstacle.
If I may, I would suggest putting this banjo project on the back burner for now.
You would not have to spend much to get a good starter banjo.

Jan 24, 2021 - 7:13:09 AM

7 posts since 1/1/2021

You are so right about all of that. I do have a 5 string that I am trying to learn to play. I wanted a vintage banjo as well and missed a better 4 string in an online auction. This was a rebound purchase. For now it will be a collectible for me to tinker with I suppose. As always, your advice and insight is greatly appreciated.

Jan 24, 2021 - 7:30:49 AM

8179 posts since 8/28/2013
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If the neck is straight, the frets are not badly worn, and everything is tight, there is no reason why this would be an insurmoujntable problem for a beginner.

First order of business would be a make sure the neck is tight to the rim. That is done by tightening the screw on the metal bracket inside where the neck meets th rim. If, after tightening, the neck still fleses up and down. the glue joint at that point is loose, and you should do as Leslie suggests. It there is no bad flex, move on to the nut. They are not difficult to make, and if you really don't care for a lot of work, tou can buy a ready-made plastic nut (these are not very good, but will get you by). You will need new strings (this appears to be a tenor banjo, so buy tenor banjo strings) of course, and from the pictures, it appears that you have bought a 5/8 inch bridge. This banjo was most likely made for a 1/2 inch bridge.

Make sure the tuuners aren't slipping. The little screw on the end can be tightened to prevent that. (Don't go so tight you can't turn them, though.)

You may also need to tighten the banjo head.

If you are trying to learn blugrass banjo, this is not the correct banjo type (you need five strings for bluegrass). If that's the case, I'd sell this one as-is and look for a five string banjo instead.

Jan 24, 2021 - 7:48:03 AM

1270 posts since 3/10/2005

quote:
Originally posted by bootsjones

You are so right about all of that. I do have a 5 string that I am trying to learn to play. I wanted a vintage banjo as well and missed a better 4 string in an online auction. This was a rebound purchase. For now it will be a collectible for me to tinker with I suppose. As always, your advice and insight is greatly appreciated.


Cool. I love cheap old banjos. Let the others have the expensive ones.

When you are ready to start, bring your tinkering to the setup forum so I can follow it

https://www.banjohangout.org/forum/forum.asp?FORUM_ID=12

Wooden nuts may have fallen out of favor but many old banjos came with wooden nuts. There's nothing wrong with fashioning a nut from very hard wood, and its much easier to work than bone and will give you good practice for the latter. I just made a hard maple nut for my old Slingerland. Its still a work in progress that needs some tweaking, but it works. I also have a very old Supertone  banjo with its original wooden nut, and it works fine.  

Jan 24, 2021 - 8:32:48 AM

7 posts since 1/1/2021

Thank you all for so much good information. Between your advice and youtube tutorials I will venture to improve this banjo. One reason for buying the tenor, which I realize is not going to be the same as the 5 string, is simply that I am short and the neck of my 5 string feels uncomfortably long for me. I also have arthritis in my left hand which adds to the discomfort. I do like the feel of the tenor as I hold it. If I can learn to pluck a few melodies on a banjo and nothing more or fancy I am still a happy player. Many thanks for the welcome feedback.

Jan 24, 2021 - 10:32:20 AM

1270 posts since 3/10/2005

A capo on the 5 string may or may not help you effectively "shorten" the neck, depending on what you play and how you are learning.

Jan 24, 2021 - 11:37:59 AM

7 posts since 1/1/2021

Just a quick note to say that I sucked it up and finished putting on the new strings. The banjo already sounds better. Thanks everyone for your kind advice.

Jan 24, 2021 - 5:20:22 PM

DSmoke

USA

946 posts since 11/30/2015

quote:
Originally posted by bootsjones

Just a quick note to say that I sucked it up and finished putting on the new strings. The banjo already sounds better. Thanks everyone for your kind advice.


Measure the action at the 12th fret, if it is too high it will be more difficult to play, too low you will experience some buzzing.  I can attest to comments above about trying to learn on a banjo that is not setup correctly for the music you want to play.  It will make the learning harder than it should be.  But have no fear, you're in the right place to get the best banjo advice on the net.

Jan 24, 2021 - 6:04:13 PM

7 posts since 1/1/2021

Thank you DSmoke. I am taking small steps to get there. And I will shift over to the repair forum with more questions. Banjo Hangout is a great resource. Thanks again.

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